By now you’ve already heard plenty about the NBA’s Noche Latina initiative (by my count the fifth year they do it), an attempt to sell more NBA merchandise to Latinos celebrate the “growing support of NBA fans and players across Latin America and U.S. Hispanic communities.” The most obvious sign of this initiative, of course, is the strategically placed El/Los before the team name on the jersey (more on this in a bit).
The league (of which 16 percent of its fan base is comprised by Latinos) has seen an incredible amount of growth, not only in the Latino markets, but also in the number of Latino players in the league. Manu Ginóbili (San Antonio Los Spurs, Argentina), Al Horford (Atlanta Hawks, Dominican Republic), and JJ Barea (Minnesota Timberwolves, Puerto Rico) are all key members of their respective teams, to say the least. According to the NBA, there are seven U.S.-born Latinos playing in the NBA, with 20 players born in Latin America and Spain (guys like Ricky Rubio, and the Gasol brothers).
This growing Latino representation in the NBA also mirrors a growing Latino presence in the NFL, and of course Major League Baseball. Along with the NBA’s ené-bé-a.com, the NFL has nflhispanic.com, and some MLB teams like the Milwaukee Cerveceros have also done their part to “honor” the Latino community.
Let’s be real, these major sports leagues aren’t stupid. They, along with every other corporation in the country, know the buying power of the rapid-growing Latino community. So as much as they may say that they want to celebrate our community, we all know that this would never happen if there were, say 30 million less Latinos in the U.S. right now. It all boils down to, what else: mo’ money.
And here’s where I’m a little split on the whole idea of things like Noche Latina. See, I was the kid that got excited when he first saw Vinny del Negro play because he might be Latino (he’s Italian-American). I was that kid that bought the Latino World Order shirt and wore it proudly to school. There was a time, not too long ago, where Latino kids didn’t have anything in the “mainstream” to look towards. And now look…the NBA has a night dedicated to us!
Of course, this doesn’t mean that sports leagues like the NBA have an open pass to “celebrate” our community under the guise of selling us more jerseys. Recently, our friends at túvez.com wrote an excellent petition to stop the NBA’s Noche Latina. I agree that the jerseys, besides being grammatically incorrect, are completely stupid, and should be discontinued. But I don’t necessarily think that something like Noche Latina has to stop.
As the petition states, the NBA’s “current course of action is reductive of Latin American culture and history, condescending, and even absurd.” I completely agree, but I also know that even if the NBA ever “got it right” we’d still find a way to say that somehow they didn’t.